Oxford's Steven Fowler makes a move towards Romeo's net as he is being chanced down by a Romeo defensemen. (For the Oakland Press/NICHOLAS BARRY)
Romeo's Cameron Gillem (right) play's the puck up ice as he clears the puck out of Romeo's zone early in the first period. (For the Oakland Press/NICHOLAS BARRY)
Romeo's Adam Soboleski (right) gets the puck poke checked away by Oxford's Justin Gizinski as Soboleski tried to score on his penalty shot early in the first period. (For the Oakland Press/NICHOLAS BARRY)
MACOMB — Romeo’s banner hockey season came to heartbreaking conclusion in the opening game of the state playoffs Monday night.
Oxford added an empty net goal to secure a 4-2 win over the Bulldogs in a Division 2 pre-regional game played at Suburban Ice Macomb. Romeo closes a stellar season at 19-5-1. Oxford (14-11-1) advances to play Anchor Bay here Wednesday night. Anchor Bay had a bye in the first round.
“We had a nice jump coming out to start the second period and we forced their defense a little bit and got some bounces our way,” said Oxford coach Dave Hague referring to his team’s two quick goals to open a 3-1 lead just 2:38 into the middle stanza. “I was real impressed with our forecheck tonight. The third goal—the eventual game winning goal—was the result of a hard forecheck.”
With Oxford pressuring the Bulldogs deep in their end, Steven Fowler swooped in behind the net and stole the puck from a stickless Romeo defender and came out and beat Romeo goalie Nick Santi with a wraparound inside the right post. Cody Wright and Henry Isaksson earned assists. Santi and his counterpart Justin Gizinski each made several key saves in the game to keep their respective teams close.
“We picked up our play in the third period and I think we made a helluva run at the game,” said Romeo coach John Minjoe. “We weren’t unlucky at the end, we just couldn’t get it done. We did everything we could. That’s just part of hockey. We played to the buzzer. I’m proud of these kids.
Romeo had tied the game 1-1 with 2:11 remaining in the opening period when Hunter Jenuwine deposited the puck from two feet out after several Romeo players had whacks at the puck in a goalmouth scramble. Mitch Pacitti is the team’s leading goal scorer and he earned his team-leading 22nd helper of the season to bump his point production to 48 for the campaign. Adam Soboleski, who failed to connect on an earlier penalty shot, also added an assist.
The visiting Wildcats opened the scoring when Stephan Fritz scored a power play tally by converting a rebound with 7:19 remaining that dropped to Santi’s right. Assists went to Jimmy Wallington and Alex Schlueter. Then Oxford’s two quick strikes in the second opened up the game and featured more creative offensive forays for each team.
Oxford started the second period with a clank when Wallington cruised in on the right wing and pinged the near side post with a whistling wrist shot just over Santi’s glove just 34 ticks in. But at 1:33 the Wildcats surged ahead on a Luke Novack goal set up by Schlueter and Connor Novack. Fowler’s goal came just 1:05 later to build that 3-1 lead.
The early second period flurry wasn’t over and 43 seconds later Pacitti notched his 27th goal with bullet wrister near the right circle and the Bulldogs had closed within 3-2. Jenuwine and Jake Rutkowske had assists. The teams exchanged opportunities throughout an intense third period but neither team could score until Oxford’s Connor Novack hit the open net with 11.6 seconds remaining.
Romeo finished a perfect 8-0 in the MAC White this year and captured the school’s first league championship.
“They don’t want to hear it right now of how good our season was. It doesn’t make sense to them. I’ve got nothing but pride about this team. It’s just tough. Everybody loses but the state champ,” added Minjoe. “It’s been a great season. They had the winningest season in school history. I’m very proud of these boys and what they did this year.”